Author Clare Mackintosh on places that inspire writing

Lake Vyrnwy
Photo: Getty

Lake Vyrnwy Photo: Getty - Credit: Archant

Where does the author of four bestselling novels find inspiration when she’s stuck for words?

The best thing about being a novelist isn’t the royalty statements, the launch parties, or the publication champagne. It isn’t even taking baths in the middle of the day and calling it work (although that’s a close second). It’s the research trips. Two years ago, I flew to Chicago to add the finishing touches to a book I’d set there. Five days of eating pizza and exploring the city, all written off against tax. Short of becoming Chief Taster at a cheese and wine factory, that’s basically the perfect job, isn’t it?

I maintained my trips were essential for creativity; that not only did I need to fact-find, travel added something indefinable to my writing. I suspected my husband considered them frivolous. After all, what can’t one find on the internet, nowadays?

I was excited about my next trip: business class from London to Sydney, as I put the finishing touches to a locked-room thriller set entirely on a plane. Hours of uninterrupted writing time! No phone, no email, no children! Champagne! (Strictly for research purposes, of course.)

Then 2020 happened. And it turned out that everything I’d said about travel had been true. It did trigger creativity, it did add something indefinable to my writing and without it… well, without it, I couldn’t write.

I plotted a book that took place closer to home: a crime novel set by a fictional lake on the border between Wales and Cheshire. I spent weeks at my desk, forcing out 200 words, only to delete them the following day. There was simply nothing inside me. No spark, no fire. No words.

“You need to go away,”’ my husband said. I suspected this advice was fuelled by a desire to stop me wallowing around the house weeping about my ruined career, but nevertheless, the support was appreciated. But go where? The book’s set locally – I literally live in a town with a lake – what possible reason did I have to leave the house?

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“Just go,” said my husband, teeth gritted. “Anywhere.” Ah. It was definitely about the wallowing, then.

I went. I drove 10 miles up the road, parked my car then followed a sign that simply said ‘waterfall’. When I got there, something extraordinary happened. A buzzing inside, like I’d touched an electric fence. I opened my iPad and wrote a thousand words. I walked back, my nerve-endings tingling, and drove to Hotel Vyrnwy, taking bites of a sandwich as I wrote another thousand words, looking down on a lake so precisely like the one in my book I felt certain I would see my own characters walking around it.

It turns out creativity is less demanding than I thought. It doesn’t need expensive travel, luxury luggage or exotic trips (although if you haven’t been to Lake Vyrnwy, it is truly breath-taking). Sometimes, all it takes to find a new perspective is simply a different view.

Book Club Pick

My top pick this month is Seven Lies, by Elizabeth Kay (Sphere). Jane and Marnie have been inseparable since school, but Jane never liked the man Marnie married. If she’d been honest about that from the start… maybe he’d still be alive. A gripping psychological thriller.

Cheshire Read

I’ve just plucked The Baby Group, by Caroline Corcoran (Avon), from my teetering TBR pile (that’s To Be Read, for the non-bookish among you). Scarlett is the yummy mummy behind hit baby blog, Cheshire Mama, but her life takes a shocking turn when a revealing video of her is sent to everyone she knows…

Clare Mackintosh is the author of four Sunday Times bestselling novels. Talk to her on Twitter @ClareMackint0sh or find her on Facebook @ClareMackWrites, where you can join the discussions for this month’s book club pick.


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